With a new season now just two weeks away, it’s time to start giving some NHL predictions for the year! Today, we’ll be looking at two teams we expect to take a big step forward, and two teams who may be taking a step back.
Detroit Red Wings
After making the postseason for 25 straight years, Detroit has gone seven straight with a losing record. Despite the recent failures, things have been trending up for the Red Wings and many fans are hoping this is the year they’ll find themselves back in the playoffs. Last year, the team finished second last in the Atlantic division and twelve points out of a playoff spot. In the offseason, they added two top six forwards in J.T. Compher and Alex DeBrincat and also shored up the defence with the addition of Jeff Petry.
Of course, there’s still a long way to go for Detroit before competing with the top guns of the Eastern Conference. That said, I don’t see a way this team doesn’t add at least a few more wins to last year’s total to really compete for a wild card spot. If Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider can take a big step this year and the goaltending is solid, Detroit will be a tough team to beat. Their forward depth may not be what it needs to be to make a real run if they make the playoffs, but the Wings should continue their climb back up the ranks of the NHL.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Staying in the East, we’ve got another team on the rise in the Columbus Blue Jackets. Even with the addition of Johnny Gaudreau, things did not go well for the Jackets in the 2022/23 campaign, but I expect to see a much better team this year. The Mike Babcock saga was a tough look for the whole organization, but there’s actually a chance that the guys in the room will grow stronger because of it. Besides the off-ice stuff though, Columbus also improved their lineup in the offseason.
The biggest addition to the forward group is the arrival of 3rd overall pick Adam Fantilli. Despite not turning 19 until October, Fantilli should see plenty of opportunities to prove himself alongside talented players this year in Columbus. On the blueline, the Blue Jackets took big strides, adding Ivan Provorov and Damon Severson. Both players should slot into the top four along with Zach Werenski, who’s returning to the lineup after missing all but thirteen games last season. The Jackets may not be a playoff team for a while, but with great prospects on the horizon and some important added pieces, they could surprise a lot of people this year.
The first team we’ve got moving down in the standings this year is the Winnipeg Jets. After a great start to last season, the Jets were very mediocre in 2023 and ended up bowing out of the NHL playoffs in just five games to the Golden Knights. Now, they’ve lost Blake Wheeler and will most likely be fielding offers for Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck all year. There’s a chance that these guys will stay with the team, but if things get off to a slow start, selling the farm before the deadline may be Winnipeg’s best option.
The Jets do have a pretty solid top end at forward, but their depth gives them trouble in what will be a very competitive wild card race this year. I don’t see them fitting into the Central Division’s top 3, which will leave them fighting for two spots against many teams that may just be a little better at this point. I think we saw the peak of this team at the beginning of last year and I don’t think we’ll see it again. They’ll be competitive, but I’ve got Winnipeg missing the NHL playoffs for the second time in three years.
This one is obvious. The regression is certain, but the degree of the regression is the question. It’s not like Boston is the same team that broke the NHL regular season record for points last year, either. With the departures of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, center ice is a huge question mark for the Bruins right now. Heading into the playoffs last year, Boston was probably the deepest team at forward in the league. In the offseason, on top of losing Bergeron and Krejci, they also lost Tyler Bertuzzi and Taylor Hall.
The Bruins still have talent at forward and a solid back end in front of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. Both goaltenders were terrific last year statistically, and this season, we’ll get to see how much of that was because of the team in front of them. I still see Boston as a playoff team, but with Toronto and Tampa Bay near the top and teams like Florida, Detroit, Ottawa and Buffalo looking to build on last year, a top 3 spot in the Atlantic Division is no guarantee for this Bruins team this season.